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1621: Castleton Methodist Chapel, Castleton, North Yorkshire, England
Castleton Methodist Chapel, Castleton, North Yorkshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: St. Hilda.
The church: Castleton Methodist Chapel, Castleton, North Yorkshire, England.
Denomination: None. The chapel is no longer used for worship on a regular basis. However, special services are held there from time to time. The service I attended was sponsored by Sanctuary, a group from nearby Guisborough Methodist Church.
The building: This is quite an unassuming building, easily missed, despite being in a prominent position on the main street of the village. It dates from 1871 and is probably little changed structurally since then. The exterior is constructed from creamy coloured brick with stone detailing, and some attractive round-arched windows. Inside, the walls have been painted relatively recently, though damp appears to be coming in on one side. At the front is an impressive array of organ pipes and some sort of dais. The floor of the main body of the building slopes upwards, and the pews are situated here. There is also the usual rabbit warren of rooms at the back common to Methodist chapels.
The church: Although the chapel is not used for regular worship, a local non-Christian youth group meets there, and a non-denominational prayer meeting is held fortnightly.
The neighbourhood: Castleton in North Yorkshire (not to be confused with Castleton in Derbyshire) is a small village set amidst the heather moors of the North York Moors National Park (more sheep than people). Despite the inroads of tourism, the village still maintains an authentic community atmosphere, though most locals now commute to Teeside these days rather than work locally. Castleton has had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Methodism in the past. Tradition relates that when John Wesley came to preach on the village green, the locals set a bull on him! Fortunately we received a somewhat warmer welcome.
The cast: Tim Woolley and Anne Anderson, lay persons associated with Guisborough Methodist Church.
The date & time: 4 October 2008, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
The building was about two-thirds full, probably about 40 to 50 people all told.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A woman was waiting at the door to shake hands with everyone who entered.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was possibly the most uncomfortable I've ever experienced. Due to the way the floor sloped, you felt you might fall out of it at any minute.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite noisy. There was a CD of modern worship songs playing, and most people were chatting with their neighbours.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Right. Good evening, everybody. It's lovely to see you here on this wet and windy night."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. There was an overhead projector that displayed the words of the songs, and in between times showed a very attractive photo of a church building overlooking the sea, which may be seen on the group's website.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitars and drums.

Did anything distract you?
The main distraction was a member of the congregation. Obviously a bit of a rough diamond, this gentleman (who was sitting across the way from me) clapped some of the songs, made occasional comments to the congregation at large and specific people, and walked out two or three times to have a cigarette. I was also distracted by the uncomfortable nature of the pew, trying to recall if I had ever felt so uncomfortable in church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was no liturgy. The service consisted of rock worship songs, short Bible passages, and times for prayer and what was called "sharing," which mainly consisted of some people in the group telling how God had brought them through difficult circumstances. The music was loud, with a PA system and about a half dozen singers leading it. Many of the attendees joined in with enthusiasm.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
3 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Difficult to judge style, etc. from such a short sermon. Apparently it was abridged because the other elements of the service had over-run.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was: "In God's crazy economy, the one staple currency that never fluctuates is love." The preacher explained how he had spent a holiday in a luxury hotel where he realised it was little use flashing his money around. By contrast, if he had been in a place where people lived in poverty, what he had would have seemed a lot. He said God's love is the same, by which I think he meant that we should be showing God's love to those in need.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I really enjoyed the singing. The group were very proficient and well-rehearsed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pew – it really was that uncomfortable!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was an invitation to have a cup of tea as the service finished. I sat in the pew for a while, but most people were chatting to friends. When I got up and walked to the door, the same person who had greeted me invited me to have a cup of tea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea and coffee, served in proper cups if you got there quickly. The tea was fairly traded (and very good) but the coffee was not. I have a vague memory of seeing plates of biscuits too.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would go along to another Sanctuary service, but probably not in this building (the pews!). I did feel the service was lacking something in the sermon department. It felt like having pudding without a main course. Good fun but ultimately unsustaining.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. I enjoyed the singing, and I was impressed by the commitment of the group. They clearly had spent much time preparing for the service as a means of outreach.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Maybe the whole incongruity of it – a modern rock worship service in a little country chapel.
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